Ben Stiller Delivers One of His Best Dramatic Performances in Brad’s Status

Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Brad’s Status Plot Summary:

When a father (Ben Stiller) takes his son (Austin Abrams) on an east coast college trip, he starts to question his own life and accomplishments compared to his wealthy, famous college friends.

If you ever wanted to see a movie about a text book mid-life crisis, this is pretty much it. From the opening seconds, this movie practically beats you over the head with it. Ben Stiller’s title character, Brad, can’t sleep. He gives the voiceover rundown about his more successful friends from college. Then he starts talking to his wife about finances. Pretty standard. This works for and against the movie. The problem with Brad’s Status is we know the ending within the first five minutes. The conclusion Brad reaches is fairly obvious. While a mixed bag, getting there was pretty damn thought-provoking.

First of all, the voiceover narration has to be addressed. This is used throughout the entire film. This approach is always a gamble. You run the risk of over-explaining, where 99.9% of the time it’s better to show, not tell. For the most part, this was a good call. While the narration can be on the nose and melodramatic, it works well in tandem with Stiller’s acting. The movie is able to have its cake and eat it too. You can see what Brad is thinking through Stiller’s understated performance, but you like having it reaffirmed through narration.

Speaking of Stiller, he truly does carry this. He fits the role like a glove. Stiller’s subtle acting has always been underrated. Even though Greenberg is a heavily flawed film, Stiller’s performance makes it watchable. While the overbearing, philosophy seminar dialogue kills it at times, you always know where Brad stands thanks to Stiller’s performance. What makes this movie flow is Brad’s ever-changing mood from scene to scene.

Brad’s disposition is the heart of the film. Brad overthinks everything and tries to imagine multiple outcomes and past decisions. At one point, Brad says “I’m just thinking out loud.” That should be the tagline for this film. Even though he says this only once, he’s constantly thinking out loud to the audience like The Wonder Years on steroids. This is what keeps you engaged. You want to know how Brad will react to a certain character or situation.

While Brad’s mood is always changing, the movie does a good job of giving you twists and turns with all the friends Brad constantly references. Some of these characters play out exactly as you’d imagine. Some of their revelations are surprising. And some are a little bit of both. While Brad’s endpoint is obvious, the ebbs and flows of his friends are not.

While the dialogue is hit or miss, there are a lot of great conversations. The most notable is when Brad has a drink with one of his son’s old friends (Shazi Raja) who’s now in college and is the typical young idealist. This is a great back and forth, even though the film is a little irritating as Brad tries to explain why his current life is frustrating, but the young gun responds with the typical “You should be thankful for what you have” mantra. Even though that’s true, the movie was a little too “you should feel guilty for wanting more” for my liking. Nevertheless, the scene is very effective.

Aside from Stiller, the other actors are well suited. Jenna Fischer is only used in doses, but is the most likable wife ever, and crucial when needed. Brad’s college buddies, played by Luke Wilson, Jemaine Clement, Mike White and Michael Sheen are all appropriately douchey, with Sheen being the most integral to the story. Austin Abrams is the notable standout and plays off Stiller flawlessly. The father/son dynamic is excellent, even though Abram’s lines don’t feel at all like something a teenager would say, especially at the end.

Brad’s Status definitely has its share of problems, most notably the score, which was WAY too over overbearing. Holy heavy handedness, Batman. Some of the clichés are also irritating. Brad gets upset when he can’t get upgraded to first class, or doesn’t get the table he wants at a restaurant. Yup. Never seen that before.

The movie could have also used more comedy, but I’m glad they went the more deep, thought-provoking route, as they easily could have Woody Allened this up, which would have been the wrong call.

I can certainly identify a lot with this material, as I’m sure many can. This movie does an admirable job of getting that across. Despite a few missteps, this movie contemplates all the right questions about an entertaining character who’s definitely going through some stuff.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

Brad’s Status will be released nationwide on September 15.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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